The ‘Mosaic’ of Holy Land’s Christian Communities

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

By Pat McCarthy* and Dan Woodin**

BETHLEHEM/JERUSALEM (ANS) — A snapshot of the Holy Land’s Christian population was revealed after Pope Francis’ and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s joint visit to Jordan and the West Bank last spring.

It is fascinating to note that Christians in the Holy land constitute a mosaic of communities, according to the Vatican’s official website for the pilgrimage.

The rooted Christians of the Holy Land are for the most part Arabic-speaking and live integrated within the Palestinian and Jordanian Arab society.

However, an increasing number of Christians of diverse origins also live within the Jewish Israeli, Hebrew-speaking society.

An important group of Christians are long-term resident expatriates, many of whom serve in Church structures, religious orders and institutions.

Then there is a large number of Christians who have come to the Holy Land as migrants – those seeking work, predominantly from Asia, and asylum seekers, predominantly from Africa. And there is a large number of Christians among the Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

There are 13 official Churches in the Holy Land that meet together regularly in order to coordinate their efforts in favor of the Holy Land’s Christians.

These are the Greek, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian and Syrian Orthodox; the Latin (Roman), Greek, Maronite, Syrian and Armenian Catholics, including the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land; and the Lutherans and Anglicans.

In addition to these, there is also a variety of Evangelical groups.

The website says Christians number between 2 and 3 percent of the total population of the Holy Land today — a major decrease in their proportion since 1948, when they made up more than 10 percent.

In the state of Israel there are:

* About 120,000 to 130,000 Christian citizens who are Palestinian Arabs.
* About 30,000 to 40,000 Christian citizens who are integrated into the Jewish Israel, Hebrew-speaking population (most of them Russian speakers).
* About 150,000 Christian migrants (105,000 migrant workers, mostly from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Ghana, Latin America and Eastern Europe, and about 45,000 African asylum seekers (mostly from Eritrea).

In the Palestinian Autonomy (and East Jerusalem) there are:

* About 50,000 Christians, almost all of them Palestinian Arabs (about 38,000 in the West Bank, about 10,000 in Jerusalem and about 2000 in the Gaza Strip).

In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan there are:

* About 250,000 Christian citizens who are Jordanian and Palestinian Arabs.
* Tens of thousands of Christian migrant workers from Asia and Africa.
* Thousands of Christians among the refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Messianic leader, Daniel Rozen, blows the shofar at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Political and economic conditions have led to large-scale emigration of Christians from the Holy Land, so that only about 20 percent of Christian Palestinians remain in their historic homeland today.

“Emigration continues as Christians see that the peace process is blocked, the Israeli occupation continues, radical Islamic movements prosper, and the economic and social situation continues to worsen,” notes the Pope’s website.

*Pat McCarthy, a retired Christian journalist living in New Zealand, now leads pilgrimages to the Holy Land and has developed the pilgrimage website www.seetheholyland.net.

**Dan Wooding is an award-winning journalist and the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and hosts the weekly “Front Page Radio” show on the KWVE Radio Network in Southern California, which is also carried throughout the United States and around the world. He is the author of some 45 books, the latest of which is a novel about the life of Jesus through the eyes of his mother called “Mary: My Story from Bethlehem to Calvary”.